I’m organized. I’m a planner. And I love it when things go according to that plan.
But I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes, when your plan gets blown out of the water, magic can happen.
These are some of my favorite, unplanned, happy accidents:
A playdate turns into a life on the court
One day, when my son, Grant, was young, a mom at his school called and asked if Grant wanted to join her son at a weekly tennis lesson. I figured, why not? Every kid needs a sport. So, he went, and he came home from his first lesson electrified, so he stuck with it – with a vengeance.
After a few months, it was apparent he needed a different coach, so I called a local tennis club. The woman who answered the phone wasn’t the usual phone-answerer. In fact, she was a coach, and she happened to have a rare opening. She turned out to be the perfect first coach for Grant. She was tough but loving, and put him on the path he stayed on for the next two decades. Tennis took Grant around the world, gave him a resilience and determination I could have only dreamed of at his age, and was a driving force in his life until very recently. Last spring, he graduated from Harvard, where he had a highly successful tennis career and capped it off by representing the victorious U.S. team in the Prentice Cup tour.
Remember the boy who originally wanted Grant to join him at his weekly tennis lesson? He quit after the first week. I remain ever grateful to that mom for opening this world to Grant.
Cab ride find leads to delicious office treats
A few years ago, I was in New York and, as one does in New York, I hopped into a cab. Sitting in the back seat was a phone. Unfortunately, it was locked, so I couldn’t open it and find the owner. But it was inside a case that also held the owner’s claim ticket for his car at the Atlanta airport. I went into Nancy Drew mode and called the number on the claim ticket and asked them to get word to the phone’s owner that I had the phone.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call from the owner and arranged to return his phone. He was so impressed that I would “go to such lengths” (i.e. make a phone call) to find the phone’s owner that he sent flowers and edible arrangements to my Dallas office addressed to the others (not me) in the office to let them know what kind of person they worked with, it was highly complementary. (I wasn’t actually there to enjoy them because I was still in New York , but my Dallas based co-workers were thrilled.)
Slow and steady wins the race
Law school is not known for being relaxing. It’s where all the Type A, hyper-competitive souls go to meet their soulmates. Granted, I was always very driven, but once I got to law school, I wasn’t in the same gear as many of my classmates. They all seemed to be gunning for law review, jockeying to be in the best study groups, and generally trying to come off the blocks as strong as possible. Good for them, I thought, but not for me.
I made good grades and was committed, but I didn’t see the point in killing myself to get one of the super-elite summer associate positions in New York when there were perfectly good jobs at law firms outside New York. Mind you, such a thought was heresy at the time, particularly for a native New Yorker, such as myself.
But I took a clerkship at a law firm in Miami and learned a lot there. Ultimately, though, I wanted to go back home, so I sweet-talked a computer science friend into helping me. He had access to a word processor at his home (this was the 80s; that was a big deal), so we were able to get it done at what was then considered lightning speed.
We opened up the directory of law firms and started at the Zs, figuring that everybody else was starting at the As, so the law firms at the end of the alphabet would have fewer applicants. By the time we got to the Ws, we were exhausted and quit.
I ended up at a New York firm called Wien, Malkin & Bettex. It was intense, to say the least, but I learned so much. In fact, it was such a great learning experience that, by the time I moved to Dallas a year and a half later, I was ready to hit the ground running at the law firm I’ve been working at for the past 31 years.
My point is this: I wasn’t one of the gunners in my law school class. And, while I may have been overshadowed by some of my classmates who were on law review and went on to Wall Street law firms. But I’m still practicing law and enjoying my life, and many of those classmates aren’t. Several of them burnt out before they hit 40.
There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have had the longevity I’ve had in the law if I hadn’t “mistakenly” taken the slower path.
I was divorced a few years ago. Certainly, my first marriage wasn’t a “mistake” – we had a lot of great years together and raised a wonderful son – but, like so many marriages, it didn’t last forever.
Whatever sadness came with my divorce, however, has been eclipsed by the boundless joy of my second marriage to the love of my life.
So, although I would have loved to not go through the sorrow and pain of divorce, if it led me here, it was so, so worth it.
Learn to love your accidents
These are just the happy accidents I could think of today. There are many, many more. And I’m sure some of the best moments in your life were accidental as well.
I’d love to hear about them in the comments.